Category: Abhigna Rao (page 1 of 2)

“How To: Start Your Own Podcast” by Abhigna Rao

I’m just going to say it: podcasts are the greatest digital media development since sliced bread! Okay, okay, that’s a matter of opinion–and sliced bread isn’t digital media. That being said, the realm of podcasting has been rising in popularity over the last several years, and whether your interests lie in politics, literature, mental health,  sports, current affairs, chat shows, or anything in between, you have likely given an episode a try on Spotify, Audible, or another streaming platform. Maybe you’re an avid podcast listener already, or maybe you’re still looking for just the right one to jump into–or perhaps, you’re even considering starting your own.

Well, guess what? I had the coolest opportunity to have a hand in starting up a podcast just a few months ago (more on that later!), and for anyone who has been thinking about doing the same for a while or just looking to pick up a new hobby over the upcoming breaks, here are my tips on how to get started. Continue reading

“Refreshing Your Work Space for School at Home” by Abhigna Rao

Over the past few weeks, the word “homeschool” has taken on an entirely new meaning for all of us. And one of the most common complaints that I have heard from friends, colleagues, residents, and everyone in between is dealing with the lack of motivation to do work and decreasing productivity with each passing day. 

For many of us, being on campus and surrounded by fellow driven students played an enormous factor in our own levels of productivity and efficiency at completing assignments. Now, without classes or RSO meetings to walk across the Green for, meeting up with friends for dinner at CR, or reviewing action potentials with study groups in lounges, it is safe to say that our learning experience has become much more sedentary than some us would like. 

Well, fear not! I may have a few ideas for livening up your work area so that you can feel more inspired and focused on a daily basis. No matter what your study strategy or work ethic is, the one factor that has a huge influence on our working style is your environment. At school, that space might be in a Redding lounge, or the Perkins Scrounge, the library, or even out on Harrington Beach. What is it now? A desk? The dining table? In bed underneath a fuzzy blanket?

Whether your room or study space is in need of a massive makeover or just bit of sprucing up here and there, below you will find a variety of ways in which you can achieve your ideal work environment. I hope that some of these help you with cleaning up your work area and in turn, helping you with achieving a space where you find it easy to focus on school work and be productive every day!

Big Change: Play with Paint

As previously mentioned, the atmosphere you work in plays a huge role in influencing your mood, as well as how often you might get distracted. This includes the colors and objects that you are surrounded by for long periods of time in a day. That’s why applying a fresh coat of paint to the walls in the room you work in might be a great step towards a healthy study environment. Colors that tend to work best for focus are cool, muted, and earthy tones. These include, white, off-white, creams, beige, taupe, greens, blues, and grays. You can even coordinate bedding and curtains to create a more cohesive theme — be creative with it and express your style! 

Little Tweak: Wall Embellishments 

If you already love your walls or want to keep them the way they are, that’s great! In that case, here are a few little things you can add to your walls that might help with getting motivated or achieving a positive headspace when it’s time to get down to business:

  • Whiteboards: great for to-do lists and writing out crazy schedules.
  • Bulletin Boards: pin up reminders, photos, everything in between.
  • Calendars: having your calendar on a wall clears up desk space.
  • Photos & Polaroids: collages are always a mood booster!
  • Recognition: medals and certificates can make great wall centerpieces.
  • Wall Decals: these can be images, patterns, or motivational quotes.
  • Posters: for places you want to go and people you want to meet.
  • Supplies Organizer: a hanging organizer can leave more room on your desk as well.
  • Easy Crafts: paper fans, tissue flowers, dreamcatchers…endless possibilities!
  • Mirrors: these will reflect natural light and make a room feel much bigger than it really is.

Big Change: Repurpose Your Furniture

Sitting upright in a chair for hours of Zoom calls and writing essays on Canvas can certainly get achy, so I am a big fan of alternate seating arrangements! But instead of purchasing new furniture, try to spruce up work space with other options. If you have some time on your hands, here are some DIY ideas:

  • Make a giant floor pillow.
  • Paint a wooden stool to turn it into a bedside table.
  • A crate or box + fiber fill or foam + any fabric = a great reading bench.
  • Rugs make the world a better place. 

Little Tweak: Accessorize, Accessorize!

In my opinion, some of the coolest visuals in any space come from neutral, minimalistic backdrops with whimsical pieces that will catch your eye. This is your chance to personalize with room decor! Here are some thought to get you started:

  • Plants: cacti are my go-to, but succulents and spider plants look awesome too! 
  • Mini Fountain: movement creates a stunning moment, plus the water serves as white noise.
  • Photo Frames: great for a desk corner or on a bookshelf!
  • Paintings: a chance for you to hang up some of your own artwork.
  • Past Awards: bring out that 5th grade soccer trophy for that empty space on your shelf!
  • Random Items: I have an old candle holder that I use as a paperweight.

Big Change: Rearrange Space Within the Larger Room

Tidying up messy areas can really help to make your space feel larger and more open. In my experience, there are certain places within a room that tend to get messier faster. Here’s what to look out for. 

  • Closet: fold and hang…in rainbow order.
  • Dresser: try to categorize by drawer, with what you need most often at the top.
  • Bookcase: alphabetically and by genre, with a few empty spaces for simple décor.
  • Storage Boxes: take your miscellaneous items and stick them in a box under your bed.

Little Tweak: Cut the Clutter

Piles of paper on one end, stacks of textbooks on the other, pens and highlighters scattered across the desk, and a coffee-stained coaster underneath the desktop keyboard — if this was you at any point (it definitely was me), you know that clutter never did good things for anyone. In fact, it adds a lot of unnecessary stress to a study area that should actually be helping you to focus. Keeping your area neat and tidy will keep you organized both physically and mentally. Here are some ways you can do that:

  • File Folders: perhaps color code by class.
  • Labels: categorize drawers so that things are easy to find. 
  • Sticky Notes: reminders and such.
  • Bookends: can be anything from rocks you found outside to fancy decorative mugs.
  • Desk Organizers: for pencils, pens, highlighters, and that one Sharpie marker you have.
  • Paperclips & Binderclips: no stray papers, keep it together!

Feel free to use as few or as many of these ideas as you would like. Above all, your space is yours, so the most important factor is that you feel comfortable in your environment, and that it provides a variety of cozy nooks where you are able to both focus on assignments and study as well as unwind and relax.

Below, I have attached a couple of links that contain even more ideas to brighten up your study area and help you get stuff done! Stay healthy, and happy working everyone!

If Your Office is Separate from Your Bedroom:

If Your Office Is Your Bedroom:

P.S. I guess now would be a good time to finally begin the room renovation that I have been saying I’ll do for months…

“Learning to Inspire Positive Change” by Abhigna Rao

On Sunday, March 1, 2020, I attended the highly anticipated Changemakers Conference on campus. A changemaker is defined as someone who has a desire to change something about the world and uses imagination, empathy, and collaboration in the right ways to create that change. 

This is the first year that a concept of a conference surrounding that idea has come to life. The day was broken down into sessions, some of which were required for everyone to attend together, and some of which we had workshop options to choose from. 

I had an amazing time there, developing new skills and networking with other students while I was at it. So, to give you a little glimpse into my day at the conference, I’m going to take you through my itinerary and share some key ideas that I learned at each session I attended!

Check-In & Morning Session: The morning session was held in the Trabant Multipurpose Rooms with all conference attendees. Susan Luchey, the Conference Chair, welcomed us, introduced how this conference came together and what she hoped we would take away from it, and really got us in the open and determined mindset that we would need for the workshops. 

Opening Keynote with Bryan Terrell Clark: Next up was a phenomenal speech by the one and only Bryan Terrell Clark. Clark is an actor, singer, songwriter, and plays George Washington on a little show called Hamilton on Broadway! He is also the co-founder of an initiative called inDEFINED, through which he teaches others how to use their spheres of influence to work towards eliminating societal labels. In his presentation, Clark talked a lot about his childhood experiences and his parental influences, how those shaped his upbringing, and what he learned from them. Here are some key points that I took away:

  • Build up enough passion to fuel the long journey that change takes. 
  • Talent and execution are not enough to be a leader—you need to believe in yourself.
  • Develop a connection with your inner voice: there is guidance within you that ALWAYS leads you to safety and success. Listen to it and strengthen your relationship with it now so that when you need it, you can trust it.
  • Master what you manifest: thoughts become things, and you can become a leader if you learn to command your thoughts.
  • Purpose is when your gifts and talents meet a need. 
  • Happiness comes when you become clear on both your passion and your purpose and they both align with one another. 
  • When you are fighting for change, you cannot pick topics out of a hat. It needs to be connected to you; it needs to make you feel something.
  • It’s not always about attacking the big idea—start with your own sphere of influence and begin with the people you know.
  • You can be powerful beyond measure if you connect with yourself. 
  • Do your best to be your authentic self.

Brunch: After that amazing and inspiring speech, we headed to the Trabant Food Court for brunch. There was a great spread, including pancakes, eggs, fruits, and coffee. I attended the conference with some of my residents in Redding, and it was great to reflect on Clark’s words and talk about the sessions we planned to attend over a delicious meal.

Breakout Session 1: The first session I attended was called “Design Your Leadership Like an Entrepreneur.” The workshop was led by Dr. Anthony Middlebrooks, an Associate Professor in Community Organization and Leadership here at UD, along with some of his students. The purpose of this workshop was to teach students how to enhance their performance as a leader by reframing problems as opportunities and embracing the following mindset:

  • Leadership is the process of influencing others towards a common goal.
  • Entrepreneurship is pursuing the creation, delivery, and capture of values from new ideas.
  • The debilitating myth of musical chairs: if there is no room for you, it doesn’t mean you’re out. Bring your own chair to the game, or better yet, start your own table. 
  • Let go of attachments that are leading you in the opposite direction of where you want to go.
  • Reframe problems as opportunities. For instance, instead of seeing a team member as rigid and uncooperative, seeing them instead as organized, assertive, and independent will allow you to seek out ways to work with them.
  • Unique value proposition: recognize what unique values you bring and think about how you want to communicate that.
  • Think about the resources and aspects of your life that you can better utilize—something you may need could have been right in front of you the whole time!
  • Avoid self-sabotaging thoughts and reinforce yourself with positive affirmations.
  • Everything you need is already within you.

Afternoon Keynote with Toshia Shaw: Toshia Shaw is a published author, speaker, spiritual life coach, holistic mental health professional, and a survivor of trauma. She is the founder of the Purple W.I.N.G.S. nonprofit organization, which works towards helping and empowering young girls who suffered from drug addiction, sexual trauma, domestic violence, and other traumatic experiences. In her talk, she talked a lot about her personal experiences with trauma, and how it shaped the way that she saw and thought about the world around her. Here are some important things I learned: 

  • Don’t allow the way a person looks to be a factor in what you think of that individual.
  • Transforming means surrendering yourself to a higher purpose. Find out what that is, and then live and walk your truth.
  • Sometimes we complain about what needs to be done because we are waiting for someone else to do it. But maybe that someone is you.
  • It is not enough to acknowledge what needs to be changed, it is your responsibility to change it.

Breakout Session 2: The second session I attended was called “How to Solve Any Problem,” presented by Nishant Chintala and Garrett Currie, UD students and coaches of the Collegiate Leadership Competition Team. They taught us that problems are usually how to solve the problem, not the problem itself. We learned how to approach any problem with the SOLVE strategy, which is an especially useful method when the solution to an issue is not obvious. We participated in a team activity that involved making 60 paper airplanes at our tables in 6 minutes, which we repeated again at the end of the workshop after learning the SOLVE method. Here it is, outlined below:

  • Set Roles: determine necessary roles, distribute strengths, adapt to obstacles.
  • Outline the Problem: define problem, set rules, explore potential setbacks, ask questions.
  • List Multiple Strategies: brainstorm different paths, utilize relevant experiences.
  • Veer Towards Consensus: hear all voices, choose three solid ideas, move forward with top.
  • Evaluate the Results: schedule pause points to check progress, develop improved plan.

The take-home message of the presentation was when solving problems, embrace chaos, be open to new ideas, learn from failure, and be fearless. Even though you may find yourself uncomfortable at first, from discomfort comes growth, which is what being a leader is all about.

Dessert & Coffee: I guess now would be an ideal time for my monthly #CoffeeRoast! The food, snacks, and coffee for this event overall was provided generously by UD Catering, so I do feel a little obligated to promote their concessions.  I will say that the coffee was decent enough, but not what I would opt for on a daily basis. However, it was FREE, which was unlike the brews I usually order, so this one gets an A+ in my book. In addition to cups of caffeine, Insomnia cookies were present. I indulged in a double chocolate chunk cookie and smuggled a chocolate chip and M&M cookie for later. 

Closing Keynote with Nyle DiMarco: Nyle DiMarco is a model, actor, dancer, and an activist for the Deaf. Being Deaf since birth himself, he is known for putting forth major efforts to de-stigmatize disabilities and creating opportunities that are not available for people who are hard of hearing or live with complete Deafness. Through his talk, he spoke about his experiences as the first Deaf contestant on America’s Next Top Model as well as Dancing with the Stars, and how he went on to win both competitions despite the many challenges he faced while in the spotlight. Every day, he works towards using his influence and platform to expand his reach and advocate for language and literacy equality. This was an incredible speech to watch, as DiMarco signed everything he wanted to say while having an interpreter speak his gestures. This is what I learned from him: 

  • Never let what you might think is a setback stop you from achieving your goals. Instead, find a novel way to let it be your strength.
  • There is so much power that comes with not letting what people do and say bother you and truly loving who you are.
  • Don’t try to fix something that is not broken: our identities are all we have.
  • Come up with your own definition of what it means to be yourself, and let that be the driving factor in your journey.
  • Trust that you have the strength to solve your own problems. 

Conference Wrap-Up and Call to Action: After the final keynote, we were joined by Susan Luchey once again, who provided us with an action plan that change cannot start without:

  • Start with brainstorming what bothers you on your campus, in your community, in the world, and in your personal life.
  • Decide which of those problems you are most passionate about, and zero in on how you can realistically create change surrounding it. 
  • Once you have identified the problem, conduct research surrounding who is responsible for the cause, what conditions contribute to the problem, when the problem originated, why it is important to you, and how it impacts you, your campus, your community, and the world.
  • Find out what resources and data you need to develop solutions, who else has or is currently tackling the problem, what has been done already towards this cause, and become and expert on the issue.
  • Brainstorm as many possible solutions as you can by moving from general to specific answers, combining ideas with others, breaking down ideas into more detailed pieces, prioritizing, and exercising zero judgement.
  • Figure out ways in which you can generate support for your cause. Make goals, develop a strategy, outline tasks, set a timeline, and create an assessment plan to measure your progress and success.
  • Implement!

And that wrapped up my day at Changemakers! I was extremely impressed with how well put together this occasion was, and especially with the effort the organizers put towards making this event as welcoming, accessible, and inclusive as possible. It was truly a phenomenal conference, and one that I hope to experience again next year!

Below, I have attached three links, which will take you to previous documented talks given by the keynote speakers from Changemakers that are similar to what they spoke about last Sunday. I encourage you to watch them, and I hope you learn something new that motivates you to inspire positive change yourself!

Bryan Terrell Clark:

Toshia Shaw:

Nyle DiMarco:

And in case you would like to check out the conference page to see more about what it was all about and get motivated to attend next year: 

Changemakers Conference Homepage:


“Side Notes: Spoon Hunt and High Stakes” by Abhigna Rao

A few weeks ago, my entire floor section in Redding got involved in a game called “Spoons” (known in other settings as “Assassins”). The rules of the game were as follows: every player received a target whom they had to get out by tapping them with a spoon and getting video evidence of the act. The only safe zones were bathrooms, classrooms, and in Redding. Every day, an “immunity”— something that you had to do or wear, like wearing socks over shoes or holding a fresh fruit in your hand all day — would be released by the game master, and if you participated, you would be protected from being taken out by whomever was after you. The game would last until there was a winner.  Continue reading

“Side Notes: So What’s the Tea on Coffee?” By Abhigna Rao

Back to school means back to the grind – in more ways than one! As the sun rises on a brand new semester, the annual return to campus comes with its own renaissance of caffeine-craving young adults withstanding long, arduous queues every morning for their fixes of various brews and blends. 

Although it may seem like just a mundane given number of classes starting up again, some of us coffee-lovers wait with bated breath until shops in the Scrounge, Smith Hall, and Trabant open for the year. In fact, finalizing my meal plan for the semester is a really exciting and crucial aspect of moving back on campus for me because – hello – POINTS! You can be sure that I spend way too much time during the first couple days of the semester evenly dividing up my meal points by week so that I know just how much I can allot for my own café appointments.

That being said, being a proud and true caffeinator is not without challenges. Indeed, while the smell of a fresh cappuccino never fails to wake me up, and though the whir of a milk frother does delight me to no end, there are certainly several inconveniences that come with being a routine coffee-drinker. 

The Dough: Although I consider myself an extreme cheapskate when it comes to everyday life, there’s something about buying coffee that turns me into an entirely different person. I will justify purchasing coffee for every possible reason: it’s been a long day, it’s my day off, it’s mid-week, it’s the weekend, it’s my study coffee before an exam, it’s my “you tried your best” coffee after one – you name the occasion, I’m probably getting something to celebrate.

I mean, I just had two mugs of café crema a la Caesar Rodney this morning – or like my old roommate like to call it, “battery acid” – then met up with a friend for a tall Starbucks Caramel Ribbon Crunch around 2 PM, and yet here I am considering getting in the temptingly short line at the Perkins Dunkin’ Donuts for a Toasted Almond Frozen Coffee with extra whipped cream (don’t judge). By the way, all the baristas at DD know my go-to order by heart, and as lovely as that is, I feel like that might be indicative of a problem.

The Disaccharides: The sugar rush that accompanies my frequent expeditions to coffee shops is real and very dangerous because I never just get a coffee. I can make a coffee with my very own Keurig and frothing wand back in my dorm room. If I’m ordering coffee, you I’m getting the Supreme Delicioso Toffeenut Frappuccino 3000 on steroids.

The Diuretic: Alright, I feel like we are friends enough that we can talk about this. I recently had a conversation about this with a friend – every now and then, I have one mug too many, and the coffee just cuts right through me. My busy days are the worst, and as much as I love my daily morning dose, I’m not sure if an extra mug of Joe is worth 21 trips to the ladies’ room for the rest of the day.

Additional Downsides: Let’s talk about pumpkin spice for a hot second here. Pumpkin is a squash. Squash is a vegetable. Vegetables do NOT belong in my latte. No matter how much spice you are adding to make it sound cute. 

Also, I wonder why there are, like, 45 different varieties of coffee wherever I go. It’s very confusing. I just want a modest hazelnut macchiato. But now, I have the options of a breve, romano, freddo, and a cortado. Fun fact: most types of coffee have exactly the same ingredients, just with different ratios of espresso, milk, and foam. I think the coffee gods just got super excited and went to town one day. Correct me if I’m wrong, but half of them sound like names of fancy pastas, anyway. So, ristretto and affogato, you have my love, but feel free to make your way back to the Olive Garden.

But all roasts aside, coffee has certainly developed into an integral part of college culture. From late night cram sessions to chilling with friends on a lazy afternoon, caffeine has become a common thread through which we share laughs and create memories. And hey, I’m here for it all the way.  

This Month’s #CoffeeRoast

I met with a colleague at Brewed Awakenings (my personal favorite Main Street café) earlier today, and we both ordered a small cold brew with a flavor syrup of our choice. There was a considerably lengthy list hanging limply off the drip machine, with some fascinating flavor choices such as pineapple and eggnog, which I guess people like with their coffee nowadays? My colleague went for the banana, while I picked Irish cream, inspired by my favorite flavor of Bailey’s coffee creamer (concoction in question pictured above). The best way to describe this drink is “nice”. It definitely was not the most earth-shattering caffeine beverage I have ever had; the sweetness did overpower the bitterness of the espresso that I enjoy. But I have to admit, it was a simple, chilly comfort on an unexpectedly toasty day. To be honest, I really wouldn’t mind trying praline, English toffee, or macadamia nut on a return visit. In other words, not a high recommendation, but certainly a flexible menu item that lets you “espresso” yourself (sorry, I had to)!


Caffeinated Articles by Some Decent Human “Beans”

“What I Learned From Quitting Coffee After 15 Years of Daily Consumption” by Angelo Belardi:

“Here’s Some Money Advice: Just Buy the Coffee” by Tim Herrera:

“A Glossary of Coffee Terms” by Oliver Strand:

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